Haiti earthquake's toll includes key political players

Miami HeraldJanuary 17, 2010 

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- They were the voices of reason and compromise in a country where words are often used as weapons of political warfare, where political turmoil is a chronic condition, like hardship and economic chaos.

And now these rising stars have been lost forever, swallowed in the rubble of the earthquake.

They were women's rights leaders, political militants, university professors, men of God.

With many still unaccounted for, the news of every confirmed death is gripping the country, even bringing tears to the eyes of its leaders.

``Every time you hear another name, you can't help but feel it,'' said Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive, who last week excused himself from a meeting with Jamaica Prime Minister Bruce Golding, walked outside and broke down in tears. ``There is only so long you can hold in the emotion.''

Moments earlier, word was just making the round that Micha Gaillard, the university professor and firebrand political militant, who became known as the voice of the opposition during the movement to oust former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, was dead.

Gaillard was attending a meeting at the ministry of justice when the earthquake hit. Despite attempts by both the minister of justice, who spent hours digging through the rubble, he died, said Dr. Ariel Henry, a friend and fellow member of Fusion, the political party they helped form a few years ago.

Henry was among the last to speak to Gaillard during a 1 a.m. conversation Wednesday.

``It's clear that in this catastrophe, all kinds of individuals were victims. You find people in the bourgeoisie, in the middle class, in popular neighborhoods, in peasants communities who have died,'' said former Prime Minister Jacques-Edouard Alexis.

The one-time prime minister was not immune to Gaillard's ``shame on you'' criticism on the radio during his tenure as head of the Haitian government, 2006-08.

``It's a huge blow when [the earthquake] takes away the human resources to help us to improve the governance of the country, to help us ensure that democracy is making huge progress in the country we've lost a lot,'' Alexis said.

The loss, he said, extends to Haitians from the diaspora who were visiting last week. These, the middle-class Haitians who come here regularly, have been part of a vital lifeline to those struggling in Haiti.

``We have a good competence in the diaspora,'' he said. ``We're not trying to make one group more privileged than the other, but we have to recognize that in this particular framework, in the framework of the government, the framework to continue to promote democracy in the country, to do development, technology, scientific, we've suffered a huge loss.''

Bellerive, the current prime minister, said he can't give an analysis of what has happened to the country, but acknowledged that the loss is immeasurable.

``Every moment you hear about a well-known, important Haitian figure who has died. You ask yourself, `Why? '' he told The Miami Herald. ``I would like to think that we are going to learn something positive out of it, to help the country. I've seen during this period and extraordinary solidarity, compassion that gives a bit of hope, it shows that we can work together. It's a good thing toward unity.''

Among those who often called for unity was Archbishop Serge Miot. The face of the Catholic Church in Haiti, he was the mediator in times of crisis. He became well known to many Miamians and Aristide supporters when he stripped Haitian activist Gerard Jean-Juste of his priestly duties after Jean-Juste considered running for the presidency.

``For me it's a personal pain because many of the personalities who died I personally knew,'' said Evans Paul, a former Port-au-Prince mayor. ``Monsignor Miot is someone who I worked with whenever there was a crisis. He would always offer up a solution in the crisis.''

Paul remembers specifically in 2003 during the tension-filled movement to oust Aristide, Miot ``played a mediation role.''

He also knows Georges Anglade, the former Aristide minister of public works, who partly lived in Canada and was here with his wife, Mireille Neptune Anglade. She was a women's rights activist. Both died along with Phillipe Rouzier, a respected Haitian economist whose name had been mentioned as possible a prime minister contender over the years. Rouzier is Mireille Anglade's brother-in-law. They died crushed under several layers of concrete roofs in a lush neighborhood of Port-au-Prince.

``He was a university professor, a demographer, who published a lot of books,'' Paul said of Georges Anglade, who was mayor of the city when Anglade was a minister of public works. ``I used to work a lot with him.''

Another loss: Magalie Marcelin, a women's-rights leader who help found a shelter for victims of rape and violence with her Kay Fanm organization.

Paul knew her since she was 14 years old.

``You have to mourn the death of everyone who died in this kind of tragedy, but the disappearance of these people is a huge symbol that will affect their families, that will affect the people who worked with them for a long time,'' he said.

``They will leave a huge void in the country because these were people who played an important role on behalf of the society. Haiti has lost a lot and it will take a long time before it can stand again.''

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